Does a cosmic perspective threaten the self? Not much, it seems

Certain writers have claimed that contemplating the vastness of space-time induces feelings of nihilistic dread, i.e. overwhelming feelings of being insignificant that threaten one’s sense of self. Such “cosmic horror” was a major theme in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote that we humans are protected by our own ignorance of the “vast infinities” in which we live and that becoming aware of the “terrifying vistas of reality” would either drive us mad or impel us to “retreat into a new dark age.”

This idea was famously parodied by Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in which he described a terrible punishment that consisted of being put inside a machine called the “total perspective vortex” in which “you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says ‘You are here.’” In the novel, this experience was so unbearable that a person would instantly drop dead from the horror of it. …

Machiavellian personalities may enjoy political campaigning more than others.

In personality psychology, Machiavellianism refers to a cynical and manipulative approach to interpersonal relationships that embraces “moral flexibility” for personal gain. People high in Machiavellian traits, or “Machs,” place a high priority on money, power, and competition, and are said to pursue their goals at the expense of, or at least without regard for the welfare of, others (Jones & Paulhus, 2009).

Machiavellianism has also been identified as a member of the “ dark triad,” a group of socially aversive, self-centered traits that also includes narcissism (a grandiose sense of one’s own superiority to others and feelings of entitlement to special treatment) and psychopathy (callous disregard for the rights of others combined with reckless impulsivity) (Jones & Figueredo, 2013). …

Specific personality traits are related to drug use.

Psychologists have long been interested in understanding what factors influence whether a person takes recreational drugs. Personality traits are well known to influence many areas of a person’s life, and drug-taking is no exception. Several studies on the subject have looked at the Big 5 personality traits: openness to experience, which relates to the breadth and complexity of a person’s mental life; conscientiousness, which relates to organization and self-discipline; extraversion, related both to sociability and pleasure-seeking; agreeableness, related to cooperation and consideration for others; and neuroticism, related to emotional instability and mental health problems.

A recent study (Allen & Laborde, 2020) in Australia involving over 12,000 people surveyed over four years found that the use of any illicit drug was related to having high openness to experience, high extraversion, low conscientiousness and agreeableness, and high neuroticism, in that order of importance. This would suggest that drug users tend to people interested in having novel experiences, who are outgoing and pleasure-seeking, prone to impulsivity and being undisciplined, willing to disregard social norms, and emotionally troubled to some extent. These effects of personality held even when controlling for differences in age, sex, and socioeconomic status. …

Pet ownership preferences may reflect personality differences

Many studies have tried to understand the factors that affect whether people own pets. One recent study (Perry & Burge, 2020) examined the role of religion in pet ownership and found that people who attended religious services more frequently tended to own fewer pets. More specifically, they were less likely to own cats than other people, but not less likely to own dogs. The reasons for this are unclear, but they might relate to the personality traits of those who prefer dogs over cats.

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To examine the relationship between religious service attendance and pet ownership, the authors (Perry & Burge, 2020) used data from the General Social Survey, a large-scale survey of American adults aged 18 years and older that is conducted every few years. The survey included questions about several factors that might affect respondents’ pet ownership, including their income, education, political party affiliation, urban vs. rural residence, number of children, church attendance, and views on whether the Bible is literally true or not, which was treated as a measure of religious conservatism. …

Are men who pay for sex and use porn sexist? Quite the opposite.

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Exploitation? Or Appreciation?

Contemporary opposition to sex work, such as prostitution and pornography, is based on the belief that sex work is incompatible with gender equality because it is not only degrading to women, but plays a role in maintaining structural inequality in society. These arguments are often rooted in radical feminist theorizing that prostitution reinforces cultural ideals based on dominance and control of women and that pornography encourages men to accept abusive attitudes to women and/or women to accept sexual subjugation by men. However, these negative claims about sex work are contradicted by the fact that modern sexually liberal societies in which pornography circulates freely also happen to be the most progressive in terms of women’s rights, while sexually restrictive societies in which prostitution and pornography are harshly suppressed also tend to be those in which women have the fewest legal protections and are most likely to be subjected to institutionalized violence (McNair, 2014). It is also worth pointing out that, despite assertions that access to pornography leads men to rape and abuse women, increased availability of access to pornography in Western countries has been associated with reductions in rates of sexual offending (McNair, 2014). In addition, recent research suggests that men who use the services of prostitutes (Brents et al., 2020) and who use pornography (Kohut et al., …

Dark Triad traits are related to sexist attitudes, but why?

The “ Dark Triad” of personality represents socially aversive traits that are related to selfish and antisocial attitudes and behavior. The members of this triad are psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism, which encompasses callous disregard for the rights of others, a cynical, manipulative approach to social interaction, and a grandiose sense of one’s own superiority to others and feelings of entitlement to special treatment, respectively.

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Sex differences in the dark triad on display.

Many studies have found that, on average, men tend to be higher in the Dark Triad than women. Various explanations have been proposed, with some emphasizing evolutionary and biological perspectives, while others emphasize learned social roles. A recent study (Gluck, Heesacker, & Choi, 2019) proposed that sex differences in the Dark Triad were partly related to sexist attitudes and suggested that Dark Triad traits might result from sexist ideologies that support unearned male power and privilege. …

Probably because it is a weird concept that does not even match reality.

Social psychologists have developed names for a host of biases in the ways people perceive behavior. The fundamental attribution error (FAE) is not only one of the most famous of these biases, but apparently, one of the most frequently misunderstood. Many laypeople confuse the FAE with distinctly different phenomena, such as the self-serving attribution bias.

Such confusion is not limited to laypeople, however. A recent article by a sociologist making a misguided attempt to apply a sociological/social psychological analysis to the popular TV show Game of Thrones illustrates the same confusion, and perhaps illustrates a deeper confusion among those who would attempt to deny the importance of human individuality in the name of social science. …

The infamous experiment was even more deeply flawed than previously suspected.

The infamous Stanford Prison experiment (SPE), conducted in 1971-in which Philip Zimbardo recruited young men to become either “prisoners” or “guards” in a mock prison, with disastrous results-has long drawn criticism for its sloppy methodology and the exaggerated conclusions about the psychology of evil that Zimbardo drew from it.

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In the subsequent decades, Zimbardo has repeatedly claimed that the SPE illustrated the “power of the situation” in driving good people to behave in cruel and dehumanizing ways. …

In two previous posts, I introduced the concept of “spiritual intelligence” as described Robert Emmons, a hypothetical ability to use spiritual information to solve problems-particularly those related to meaning in life-to bring about personality integration. I suggested that, although it is unlikely that this corresponds to a completely separate intelligence, it might represent a genuine area of human functioning that could be worth exploring further. Then, I discussed some of the psychological features that might underlie whatever “spiritual intelligence” is.

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Having considered what spiritual intelligence might substantively involve, potential criticisms of the concept need to be addressed. Although Emmons (2000a) claimed that “spiritual intelligence” is distinct from the broader concept of spirituality, the two concepts are difficult to differentiate in practice (Mayer, 2000), as both involve experiencing altered states of consciousness. A related concern is that “spiritual intelligence” may be difficult to disentangle from metaphysical beliefs that tend to be packaged with the concept of spirituality. Spiritual intelligence, as Emmons describes it, seems to strongly imply that certain spiritual beliefs or paths are correct. However, as Mayer (2000) noted, intelligence is plastic and allows one to consider many different avenues of thought. The way Emmons frames the concept of spiritual intelligence seems to imply that a spiritually intelligent person would reach certain preconceived conclusions. For example, one of the components of spiritual intelligence Emmons (2000a) proposed is the “capacity to transcend the physical and material.” …

What would be the underlying components of “spiritual intelligence”?

In a previous article, I introduced the concept of “spiritual intelligence” as proposed by Robert Emmons. I noted that although Emmons considers spiritual intelligence an extension of Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences, there is actually a lack of evidence for different kinds of intelligence that operate separately from general intelligence. Hence, if spiritual intelligence is to be considered a valid concept, it might be more useful to explore how it might fit into evidence-based concepts. Hence, although the term “spiritual intelligence” might be something of a misnomer, it is possible that the concept maps onto genuine areas of human functioning. …


Scott McGreal

Blogging about psychology research, especially in personality and individual differences, as well as psychedelic drug research, and whatever else takes my fancy

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